Una's Blog


Una’s little world 42. Toxic culture

by Una Hearne.

With our relative wealth and health in the developed world, we should all be happy and fulfilled, right? But no, we are increasingly stressed and anxious. Why? Why are we dealing with increasing levels of mental and physical illness?

What is going on in our society that is so toxic to us? Given that different things stress different people in different ways, it is notoriously difficult to research stress and how it relates to health. Yet we all know stress can be the killer ingredient in any illness.

I have much to say on capitalism, society and culture but this is just one little blog πŸ™‚Β  So I’m just going to point to an illuminating example – our education system. It shows how we are programmed by the society and culture we are brought up in and how cracked this can be.

Here’s what we learn in school:

  • You are in competition with your peers – there are winners and losers.
  • Failure is a disaster. For your ranking by your school and by your peers.
  • You get one chance to prove yourself – the EXAM- and EVERYTHING – your whole future – depends on your performance.
  • When you sit an exam you must remember all you have learned and be able to produce all the correct answers on the spot.

If you carry this forward to life, it is easy to see that the lessons are not relevant to the real world:

  • The bigger truth about being human is interdependence and the fact that we each bring unique gifts to the world. It is actually more important to be good at collaborating than competition.
  • Failure is an integral part of success, you can’t have one without the other in the real world.
  • There are always more chances. There is always another day, another idea, another approach to try.
  • You can’t hold in your head even a fraction of the knowledge available to know nowadays. We do not need memory skills – we need to know where to find the information we want and most importantly, to be able to discern what is reliable information.

Competition is fine in limited areas where competition can produce inspiration and progress. It is perfectly fine in sports for example, pushing us to do better and go further. However it should not rule the way we live our lives. Yet somehow even our homes and children, our careers, leisure pursuits and our looks have become competitive sports on social media.

At the same time as we say this is not how it should be, we go ahead and join in, constantly worrying if we measure up. We chase all day long on our hamster wheels never quite getting there. Where exactly? There is always more to be achieved, fixed, attained. This leaves us to varying degrees in perpetual states of anxiety and stress. And inevitably it is increasing in each generation as children copy and try to go further than their parents.

We desperately need to change the education system to prepare children for the real world. And we all need to learn to opt out of ridiculous unhealthy competition that ultimately leads us nowhere except misery.

If what you are doing makes you stressed and anxious – why are you doing it? You don’t have to join in with toxic behaviour, ever. You really don’t. What is stressing you most in your life now? What could you do differently to make you happier?


PS: I’m taking a little break from blogging for July and August, next blog will be out on 24th September. Have a lovely summer πŸ™‚


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